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High Hopes for Hydrogen

China and Germany have a lot to do together on production and application of hydrogen to achieve their ambitious goals of carbon neutrality

By Peng Dawei Updated Aug.1

Two refueling workers refuel a hydrogen bus at Liangjiang Hydrogen Station, Chongqing, April 27, 2022

Cooperation between China and Germany and Europe on climate change, especially the development of hydrogen energy, could set an excellent model for China-EU relations. That is the message from guests at the China-Germany Dialogue on Climate Change in early April hosted by China News Service and the German Federal Association for Economic Development and Foreign Trade (BWA).  

Chinese guests at the dialogue included Du Xiangwan, former Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and advisor to the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, and Wang Yi, vice president of the Institutes of Science and Development under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  

Joining via videolink were Dr. Hans-Peter Friedrich, former vice president of the German Bundestag (2017-2021) and chairman of the non-profit organization China-Bridge association of Germany, and Michael Schumann, president of the BWA.  

CNS: How can China and Germany achieve their carbon reduction goals and work together on climate change solutions?  

Hans-Peter Friedrich: Digitalization and carbon neutrality are the two major transformations in the first 50 years of this century. China and Germany should and must work together to ensure that humanity could make progress on these two fronts. The EU has an ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, while China set its goal of doing so by 2060, along with other ambitions. If we want to achieve these goals, we need to switch now, as soon as possible and as much as possible, to energy sources that do not release carbon dioxide, such as electricity and hydrogen.  

Hydrogen energy’s great advantage lies in its non-reliance on pipelines. It can be produced, stored and transported anywhere in the world, and is thus considered in many countries the secret weapon to fight climate change.  

Germany is one of the leading countries in hydrogen research. It holds a lot of patents. China has a huge market and potential for innovation. It would benefit both countries’ economies to promote cooperation on hydrogen energy between the two countries. We have to push forward climate dialogue between China and Germany.  

Du Xiangwan: German scientists and their European colleagues have made important contributions to research on climate change, especially to the establishment of the contemporary science of climate change. European scientists, including those in Germany, have been working to promote the fight against climate change. In this regard, we all share a common language.  

Since wind and solar energy are intermittent, energy storage is essential to ensure a stable supply. Hydrogen energy is a very important energy source for storage. The current idea is to combine intermittent renewable energy with energy storage.  

Hydrogen energy has two problems. The first is how to make hydrogen. Because hydrogen is secondary energy, coal can be used to make hydrogen, but the process emits carbon dioxide, which is against our original purpose. So, the direction is quite clear for Europe, that is, developing green hydrogen [which is] producing hydrogen based on non-fossil fuel energy.  
The second problem is how to use hydrogen. The first consideration is energy storage, using hydrogen to back up solar and wind energy, which is theoretically workable but in practice lacks application, which is the case in both countries.  

The two countries not only share much consensus in dealing with climate change, but also face the same or similar problems and difficulties. So, we could have more exchanges. 
Michael Schumann: Reliable energy supply is one of the basic conditions for creating and maintaining prosperity and progress in modern societies. The so-called energy trilemma (the World Energy Council’s concept of the hard-to-achieve balance between energy security, energy equity and energy sustainability) has defined the relationship and conflict between the energy supply for economic growth, and its environmental impact and climate protection. Natural gas, as a bridge fuel, will continue to play its central role in marching toward the renewable energy industry.  

As an industrialized country, Germany has withdrawn from nuclear energy and coal in a short period, but it still needs fossil fuels. Over recent years, the country has seen rapid improvements in energy processing and storage technologies, which ensures its fossil fuel consumption is in line with environmental standards. Natural gas will continue to play a key role, and act as a bridge to more efficient renewable technologies. The fight against climate change and the creation of sustainable working and living conditions can only succeed based on global cooperation. China is an indispensable partner in this regard, and China-Germany cooperation in this field might become a suitable model for China-Europe relations overall.  

Wang Yi: China and Germany have a long history of environmental and climate cooperation going back to the 1990s. Bilateral climate cooperation has grown rapidly since 2008, around the time of the Copenhagen Conference (COP15 in 2009). The past two years have also seen a lot of cooperation and exchanges on the environment and climate change, despite the pandemic. We hope that by commemorating the two countries’ 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations (in 2022), we could further strengthen such cooperation, and [we] hope it will continue.  

Climate change is a global challenge that transcends countries and ideologies. Therefore, we will have to work more on practical cooperation and action. In addition, we may need to work more on identifying priority areas. For example, China is rapidly developing hydrogen energy. I have been to Northwest China and seen solar photovoltaic production of green hydrogen energy. Hydrogen energy is expected to be used in different scenarios, such as fueling heavy trucks or producing more chemical materials.  

With more possible applications, we must tackle the issue of high costs and improve its efficiency. This is where China needs to work with Germany. Germany is well-experienced in energy transition, while China is wellexperienced in making renewable energy equipment and cutting costs by large-scale installment.  

There are other areas for cooperation. For example, Germany is well-experienced in climate legislation and policy formulation, such as the Climate Change Act (2021). China’s legislature is also considering a better legislation and legal system in achieving carbon peaking and carbon neutrality. Both countries could deepen cooperation in many aspects.  

CNS: How can Sino-German cooperation on climate contribute to the world’s efforts to tackle climate change?  

WY: China’s “1+N” policy framework (a guideline and action plans for carbon peaking and carbon neutrality) is not only about carbon reduction. It is a systemic change. However, this cannot be achieved overnight. It can only be developed in practice. We hope to learn more from Germany and other developed countries. In addition, we need third-party cooperation, that is, China working along with Germany and other developed countries to help developing countries jointly achieve green energy development.  

DX: I think China-Germany cooperation is very important. German and Danish practices are often cited as an example for China’s own energy transition. So, I pay close attention to Germany. Recently, some of our experts visited Germany. They told me that photovoltaics are installed wherever possible in Germany – meaning the wide application of distributed photovoltaic devices. This is quite impressive.  

But both Germany and Denmark face the same problem: How to ensure stable transmission of renewable energy while developing their installed capacity. We hope we can cooperate and communicate more in this area so that development of renewable energy will no longer be just a plan on paper, but a practice on the ground with a promising future. We are paying close attention to Germany and Denmark, and will learn from you. We will certainly be happier if you are ahead, but we would like to share with you if we are doing a good job.  

HF: If we prove some ways can maintain prosperity, ensure security and reduce CO2 emissions, our technology would become an example for the rest of the world. Therefore, every step toward zero CO2 emissions is very important.  

MS: We welcome Chinese investment in Germany. We see good cooperation between China and Germany in many fields of technology, including in the automotive industry. For example, Huawei’s cooperation with German auto companies is both mutually complementary and inspiring. We should encourage this bridge-building spirit, while the inclination of confrontation we are seeing now is not good for the world.